Tim Lebbon

The November Special Guest Writer is Tim Lebbon

Please feel free to vist Tim HERE

Tim Lebbon

by Edgar Allan Poe and Tim Lebbon

It’s the heat that makes me wonder.

Much of the dream, though strange, is easy to understand.  There’s the tang of salt on my lips as I leaf through the pages of an old book, its paper blank, the meaning of the plain sheets all too easy to imagine.  There’s the feel of spray on my skin as I stare into a light, its power burning my eyes.  The warning it is designed to send is lost in the endless landscape of my sleep.  If I open my mouth I can taste fish and loneliness.  I smell chalk and the odour of my own unwashed body, and the stench of something burned long ago. 

I have always been able to steer my dreams.  When I passed through puberty I came to realise that dreams were my own alternate playground where I could be an anti-hero or a God, an iconic criminal or a floating dragon, breathing fire across cities filled with people who followed their dreams without a moment’s hesitation or rebellion.  The revelation took a while to sink in, but when I began to experiment with the talent, it opened up a second incredible existence.

Someone once said, Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.  How true.  As a teen, Ruth Hughes found herself naked in my dreams most nights, doing things that she probably did not even understand.  I smiled at her in school, and she smiled back, and I knew the smell and taste of her.  As I grew older the dreams became more expansive, my lucid dreaming ability informed by a rapidly burgeoning intellect.  I thought there may be distant truths in there, and I chased them.  I lived whole lives other than my own.

This recurring dream, though … I pass through its sensory vistas fully aware that I am dreaming, yet I have no level of control.  There’s the water and light and the sense of being utterly alone, but also the heat washing in like waves.  Perhaps the sea is on fire.

That heat intrigues me.  And like my dead relatives before me, I am a man who can never leave a mystery alone.


Everyone knows where the remains of the lighthouse stand.  It’s a famous story, after all; a supposed noble of the realm retreats to one of the most isolated man-made places on the planet to pursue his dreams of writing a book … and vanishes.  There have been a dozen books written on the subject, various TV programmes, and a bad movie starring some long-forgotten star with a looming tax bill.  The story entered the public consciousness two hundred years ago, and it resides there still.  

But nobody knows of the journal.  Discovered by my ancestors on their first rescue journey to the lighthouse, it has been passed down through the generations.  And after my father disappeared on his own voyage to that damned place, I opened the letter he had left in case of such a circumstance.  “Take the book, and find the truth,” he wrote, and that was all.

Every male member of our family has taken at least one trip to the lighthouse.  Sometimes, they do not come back.


The island is still painfully inaccessible.  I had to part with a large portion of my savings to persuade a local fisherman to take me out that far. 

“What are you afraid of?” I asked him toward the end of our argument.  He looked at me and smiled, an expression that never reached his eyes. 

“Here there be monsters,” he said.  I was in no mood for a fisherman’s superstitions, and a hefty hike in his charter price suddenly seemed to quell his fears.  Whatever legends prowled these seas, it seemed that money could buy them out.

The weather is fine for most of our journey, the sea calm, and I settle down on deck to reacquaint myself with some of my great-great-great grandfather’s jottings.  I have a copy of his journal with me; I could not risk bringing the original in case … well, just in case.  His diary for those first three days alone in the lighthouse has a manic, frantic feel that is strange when compared to his earlier writings.  I imagine him carrying the notebook around with him, writing as he explored his new abode, walking on, pausing here and there to note down his observations.  Perhaps he had intended to write them up in full later, creating more of a coherent whole.  But for him ‘later’ never came. 

They found no trace of the body.  At the time it was suspected that he had been incinerated by the ferocity of the destruction.  But the different heat of my dreams tells an alternative tale.  Even after two hundred years the scorch marks are still evident on the pages of his journal. 

“The cutter had a narrow escape – but why dwell on that, since I am here, all safe?”

I look up and scan the sea ahead, wondering where the cutter’s brush with doom had taken place.  Are there reefs out here ready to tear the hull from a boat?  Does my captain know them?  He glances back at me and smiles, jokes with his mate, the voices too low for me to hear.  I see the bulge of money in his pocket and look back down at the facsimile of my ancestor’s journal. 

“My spirits are beginning to revive already, at the thought of being – for once in my life at least – thoroughly alone.”  A desire for solitude seems to run in my family.  Much as I love my wife and child, these times away are when I am truly myself.  That saddens me, and yet finding purity of existence is important.  My wife knows me so well; I need to know myself.  The sea breeze kisses my skin, reminding me of my heat-soaked dreams, and I am able to smile an honest smile.  When I smile at my wife my face is often strained, as if the expression is not natural to me.  I hate that idea.  I always have.  But I have come to accept that it is simply who I am.

So my smile now is fresh and free, and I can almost feel the sea’s breath passing through me as the boat motors across the calm surface.

I snooze.  It is unintentional, but I enjoy the way my hearing becomes more sensitive as I begin to drift away.  I hear the sea caressing the boat’s hull, the steady chugging of the motors, the violence of the propeller eating at the water.  And as I fall deeper I hear what sounds like whale song.  It carries a warning, but sleep takes me away from whatever danger it foretells.


‘I do not believe I am going to get nervous about my insulation’, my ancestor wrote.  So, he had his doubts.

Wake up!

That will never do.  I have not forgotten De Grät’s prophecy.”  The prophecy … the mystery that has obsessed, and sometimes stolen so many of my ancestors’ lives.

Wake up, dammit!

Now for a scramble to the lantern and a good look around to “See what I can see”…

I open my eyes. The captain is shaking me, his hand raised ready to slap me around the face.  When he sees that I am awake he pauses for a second or two, seeming ready to strike me anyway.  Then he lowers his hand.

“What is it?” I ask.  

“Something out of the sea,” he says.  There is a very real fear in his voice.  It’s a fear that says, ‘I wish I’d never accepted your damn money, however much it is’.  He looks way beyond anger and recrimination.  He is terrified.

What out of the sea?”

He steps aside.

The sea is boiling.  It’s difficult to tell how far away it is – a mile, perhaps two – but the waters roll and spit with heat, and great swathes of steam are drifting away to the east.  Even now our boat bobs on the swell raised by this disturbance.

“A volcano?” I ask. 

“Volcanoes don’t fly,” he says, pointing up.

There is something passing across the sun. I squint, unable to look for long.  It is like a negative shadow on the sky, a spurt of flame and light, searing the heavens before disappearing into a high bank of clouds and lighting their insides.

“What?” I say, but the captain can only shake his head.  His mate bickers with him, and they both stand on the bridge and have a hand in turning the wheel.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“What the Hell does it look like?  We’re turning back.”

“No,” I say.  “No, I have to get to the island, the lighthouse.”

The captain turns back to me, and I realise that his fear has made him dangerous.  “Look, you paid me a lot of money to drop you on that bloody island, but however much it was, it isn’t enough to kill myself over.  I love my wife and kids, but this isn’t how I provide for them.  Got it?”

“But …but …”  I have no idea what to say, because I know he is right. 

The captain throws a wad of money at me and walks away.  “Refund,” he says over his shoulder.  And that is when the sky lights up again.

The ball of fire is travelling so fast that we do not hear it.  We feel it though, the bow-wave of its descent knocking us from our feet, and then the explosion of heat across the boat as it passes close overhead.  I actually see paint blister and burst on the wheelhouse, and hear the timber deck groaning and splitting as the boards expand.  My clothes catch fire, stretching across my body, smoothing against my skin, and I smell burning hair.  I guess that it’s my own.

Something strikes me and I totter against the railing, finally tipping over and plunging into the blessedly cold waters.  The pain bites in then, and when I open my mouth to scream water rushes in.  I thrash and kick for the surface.  As air touches my face I cough and splutter, wave my hands, but then there is an explosive impact on my face and chest so loud and powerful that I pass out.

Confused, I drift and dream.  I do not know where I am.  On the boat, still dreaming?  Or perhaps I am back at home and have never embarked on such a foolish trip?  And still there is the salty taste of my ancestor’s words, the light pulsing in and out of memory, and heat … heat … heat burning me and scorching away any sense of consciousness as I am lifted out of my old life forever.


When I come to I am on a rocky shore.  The sea is below and behind me, lapping at ragged rocks like a giant dog’s tongue licking its teeth.  I raise myself slowly onto my forearms and look back, wondering how I could have crawled this far, realising that I had not.  Something brought me.  If the sea had been wild enough to deposit me here, it would have dashed me to death on the shore.

I recall De Grät’s prophecy, vague and ambiguous though it always was: You will be together in the end.  It’s said he spoke of my family, but I always had my doubts.  Like Nostradamus, he was open to interpretation.

There is a burning sensation in my shoulders and chest, and I prepare myself to examine the wounds.

And then I turn, look up, and realise where I am.

I am more than familiar with the ruins of the lighthouse, even though this is my first visit.  I have examined photographs in books, films on the screen, and images drawn and painted by my ancestors who survived their journey here.  I know every angle, every shadow, every tumbled wall and hidden hollow.  And yet now, truly seeing it for the first time, it takes my breath away.  One hundred and sixty feet tall, so the journal says, and now it is barely fifty.  The top of the lighthouse is missing.  It has not crumbled, tilted or fallen onto the small spit of land bearing it up.  It has vanished.  Whatever catastrophe killed or took the first of my ancestors almost two hundred years ago also sheared the top portion from this building, and flung it far out into the sea.

“No mere sea, though, could accomplish anything with this solid iron-riveted wall – which, at 50 feet from high-water mark, is four feet this, if one inch …”

“What the hell could do that?” I mutter, and the sea answers me with a secretive sigh.

I stand, and those pains in my shoulders and chest cry out once more.  I wince and peel off my singed shirt to reveal the burns on my skin, bubbled and blistered and potent with pus.  I remember the burst of fire across the boat and the impact of its exploding fuel tanks just a few seconds later … but the wounds have a pattern to them.  No splash of burning fuel caused these.  They have defined edges, thick on top of my shoulders and tapering to a point by the time they reach my chest.  Almost like the evidence of clasping fingers.

I look up at the ruin.  “What have you done?” I whisper.  Is this the way my ancestors went?  That ball of fire from the sky?  But what was it?  And how come I am still alive?

I pick my way between rocks, working my way up toward the base of the ruined lighthouse.  There is a sense of being watched, as if I am a character in that poor movie made about my ancestor’s disappearance.  But my being here also feels very right, like coming home to a place I have never been. Behind me the sea is utterly calm, but for its rhythmic hush against the island.  It barely breaks white.

The captain and his mate must be dead.  Once I am a little higher above sea level I turn and look back, shielding my eyes against the sun, trying to spot any sign of wreckage or survivors.  But there is nothing out there on the millpond sea.  No sign of the boat, no lifeboat, no waving hands or flashing lights from a lifebelt.  The explosion must have happened miles away – otherwise we would have seen the lighthouse from where we were – and whether alive or dead, the boat’s crew are now beyond me. 

I should feel sad at that, but shock bears me on.

Although the top of the lighthouse has vanished, there is some scattered debris from whatever monumental force shattered the structure.  Even two hundred years later, great shards of torn metal litter the slopes up from the beach.  Most of it is badly rusted now, and I pick up one small piece that is as thin and light as paper.  I twist it in my hands and it falls apart.  But there are other chunks of iron that are all but immovable and it is these that I pause to examine, though I have no idea what I can hope to discover so long after the event.  I strain to lift one such chunk and it squeals against stone as it slides a few feet down the slope.  Crabs scuttle away from the damp hollows revealed, and other small creatures flutter and flit back into the shadows.  I let them clear before bending to examine the underside of the metal.  It is mostly rusted, but there are some areas that look smooth and shined, almost as if something had melted and then reset the panel.  I reach underneath, stretching my fingers to find one such patch, but something wet and cool touches my hand and I withdraw.

I continue to the base of the lighthouse.  The closer I approach, the more debris litters the ground.  Weeds grow between and through it, as if the island has spent decades trying to subsume this man-made artefact.  But the lighthouse, destroyed though it is, persists. 

I try to see where my ancestors must have trodden.  My father came this way, of that I have no doubt, and he never returned.  There is a danger here to our family, a fatal curse that recognises our blood and our smell, our aims and our mind.  I look out for signs of what that danger could be.

Something burnt the boat.  Something flaming came out of the sky and tried to kill me, and it was only the captain stumbling into me and pushing me overboard that saved my life.  The heat of my dreams match the flames of my fate.  And yet it is not within me to give up.

The lighthouse looks almost as if it has grown out of the island.  Near the base the metal is moulded into the rocky substructure, the join ambiguous, blurred as it is with weeds and crumbled shards of rusted iron.  The ground around the base is raised, as if pushed upward when the lighthouse forced its way out of the ground like a tooth being born.  I step forward and touch the metal skin of the ruin for the first time.  It is warm.  The sun has been on it all day, I suppose, and yet for a few seconds it feels like the warmth of life.

More heat, I think, more fire, more flames to run the engines of my imagination.  

I move my hand across the surface, passing over knotted rivets and great rusted wall sheets, at least four feet thick if my ancestor’s journal is to be believed.  I tap on the metal and there is no sense of hollowness at all; it is like striking rock. 

I turn and look up at the sky.  There are heavy cloud banks to the east, boiling and rolling my way.  Other than that the sky is a beautiful deep blue, the sun nestling in the purity of the colour as it dips slowly toward the west.  I remember the clouds lighting up as the ball of fire disappeared within, and I wonder whether the sun is afraid of such competition.

That ball of fire … what was it?  And how is it linked to the lighthouse?

More importantly, what had my ancestors done to anger it so?

The severity of my situation hits me.  For the past few minutes the dregs of my unconsciousness had befuddled me; that and the fact that I was here at last.  But now I realise how completely stranded I am on this small island, without food and water, alone, no means of escape.  My wife will report me missing soon, but it may take a few days for the coast guard to consider a rescue attempt so far out.  Perhaps they will send a helicopter … and again I think of that flaming ball of light assaulting out boat, smashing it to smithereens almost before we heard the roar of its descent.

As if answering my thoughts the metal beneath my hand seems to grow suddenly warmer.  I pull away and scramble around the lighthouse, seeking the entrance door.  Perhaps inside I will find the answers to so many mysteries; where my relatives have disappeared to, what happened to them, why?  Or maybe when I open the door I will find only more ruins giving home to sea birds, wind-blown weeds and rust.

But there is more here than that, I know.  So much more than mere normality.  And still I feel observed, as if my father and father’s father are watching my clumsy exploration, waiting to see whether I can solve the mystery that lured them to their deaths.

At last I find the door.  It is rusted open.  And even though the sun is directly overhead, inside there is only darkness.


In the east, I see the flash of lightning.

I pause by the lighthouse door.  Glance away across the sea.  Back to the lighthouse.  And something drives me away, a few stumbled steps that lead me toward a jutting mound of rock painted green with moss.  I begin to climb, thinking that perhaps I will see the storm better from up there.  But of course that is a foolish reason.  Yet something drives me up, or pulls me, or both at the same time.  I find handholds easily, my feet slip into small cracks and onto ledges, and though the sides of the rock are not particularly steep I still feel a sense of achievement when I reach its flattened top.

Turning around slowly, I see that I am almost level with the ragged top of the ruined lighthouse.  I examine the damage that has been wrought there; the torn metal, the staircase protruding above the wound like the structure’s stripped spine.  The metal handrail and treads are warped and deformed, and from this distance it appears that they have been melted and re-hardened into all manner of exotic shapes.  Nature’s sculpturer, I think, and although I have no idea where the phrase comes from, it instantly brings the flying ball of flame to mind.

To the east the bank of clouds is closing in rapidly, lit from within by violent electrical storms.  They reveal the geography of the clouds with every strike.  It will be here soon.  And like a mother’s shriek before birth, thunder rumbles in and accompanies the subtle sound of the sea washing against the island.

I turn back to the lighthouse, and for a second it seems that its innards are aglow.  But I blink and the illusion fades.  Just a reflection of the lightning, I think.  Only a reflection

I am standing on the highest point of the island.  It is a small splinter of land, and from here I can see it all.  There is little shelter.  I was hoping to see a small cave, an overhang that could shield me from the storm, but every second strengthens the conviction that the ruined lighthouse is the only place where I will be safe from the violent weather closing in.  I glance back at the storm and it seems to have taken the sky.  The sun is fleeing to the west.  The storm is riding in from the east, celebrating its victory with explosions of light and sound.  And in the middle, trapped on the island that has swallowed so many before me, I am truly afraid for the first time.

I approach the lighthouse door, reach out, feel the warmth of the metal like a hard kiss upon my palm.  I am hit by a sudden sense of elation and terror, exhilaration and danger.  I am alone, and I suddenly seem to know myself better than at any time in my past.  Every second older I become I understand myself more, and I stand there with my hand on the door until the rain starts to fall.

Inside, the floor still seems whole.

I remember how the basement is described in the journal, and how ‘the floor is 20 feet below the surface of the sea, even at low-tide . . . . . . It seems to me that the hollow interior at the bottom should have been filled in with solid masonry’.  The guts of the lighthouse have been torn out, tattered, deformed, and they stand before me now as testament to whatever power destroyed them in the first place. 

It is immediately obvious that the building was shattered from the inside.  The staircase I saw from the rock is still curled around the inner wall, but it is bent upward in many places, treads twisted and handrail held against the wall by the forces that first bent it there.  The remains of internal walls are here as well, warped metal ribs revealed by the stonework smashed centuries ago, and washed away by decades of rain and sun, frost and heat ever since.

“What did this?” I mutter.  The rain is coming down harder now, plastering my hair to my head, and I realise very soon that I have to find shelter if I am to survive.  Right now it is still quite warm, but come night-time, if I am caught out in the open when the heart of this storm passes over the island, I will die of exposure.  However close to the wall of the lighthouse I huddle, the rain will find me.  I could rearrange some of the debris, perhaps, and form a shelter … but one look at the mass of metal and stone piled around the interior rubbishes that notion.  There is little here that can help me, and little that I could even move.  Even if I could extract one sheet of metal it might upset the whole ruinous structure, and I would find death buried beneath the remnants of the destroyed building.

There is the basement.  I know that is my only hope, the only place where I can find shelter and a chance to dwell upon my predicament.

But it will be dark down there.

And somewhere here – somewhere – is cause of my father’s death.


The storm explodes as I make my way across the precarious interior of the lighthouse.  The door to the basement must be here somewhere.  Rain pours down, so heavy that at first I wonder whether the sea itself is sweeping across the island.  But I look up and open my mouth, and this water is fresh.  At least I will be able to drink, keeping myself alive until rescue arrives.

Lightning flashes, and only seconds later the thunder roars in, so close that it sets metal vibrating around me like twisted tuning forks.  The teeth shake in my head, my skull vibrates, and I fall to my knees, hands over my ears.  The interior of the building is acting as a vibration chamber, and I suddenly wonder what will happen if lightning finds the tip of the structure.

Perhaps this is the way my father died.  Maybe somewhere here – close to me, even beneath my feet – his skeleton will show the singed signs of death, the lightning strike that melted his brain and fused the bones of his spine into new shapes, echoing the staircase that still strives to climb from this place.

I look, but I do not want to see. 

I scream, and my shout sees off the thunder.  Shaking, I drop to my hands and knees … and see the entrance to the basement.

There is no door.  It is a hole in the floor, blasted here by something powerful and monstrous.  Its edges are punched through the two feet thick slab, the edges of the hole smooth and cauterised.  It is only several feet across, and yet its maw is more threatening than anything I have ever seen.

I try to deny the mystery, shake my head, wake up in my armchair at home with my wife sitting across from me reading, my son playing with his toy cars on the floor.  And yet the image of my family is distant and unreal; the only reality is the here and now. 

I tumble forward into the hole, and the sun erupts around me.


The basement is aflame.  I cringe back against the wall, but when I open my eyes the fire does not hurt.  In the flames there are shapes, and in these shapes there are truths which I cannot yet understand.  These truths are faces that I recognise, though their features are unknown; they are eyes of light that look upon me with emotions I cannot know; they lick across the ceiling and draw the history of my life, and the histories of my ancestors as well.  There are whole lives within those flames, and as I see them swallowing my legs my torso, feel them in my eyes, the impossibility of all this closes in.

Soon after that comes the pain.

I see the ashes of my ancestors scattered across the floor of the basement, grey and dry and peppered with knots of fused bone.  The fire eats at me from the outside in, and I open my mouth to scream.  Tendrils of flame reach inside.  My eyes melt from my face.  I cannot comprehend the pain, it is so beyond anything in a human’s understanding.

I should be dead by now.


We rise up.  A phoenix from the ashes, resurrected from the remnants of history, my family and I pour from the basement and roar into the sky.  Rain steams away from us.  Clouds boil at our touch.  Lightning passes through us, and we emerge triumphant.

At last I have all the answers.  But the questions no longer concern me.

Tim Lebbon is a New York Times-bestselling writer from South Wales.  He’s had over forty novels published to date, as well as hundreds of novellas and short stories.  His latest novel is The Edge, final book in the Relics trilogyOther recent releases include The Silence, The Family Man, The Rage War trilogy, and Blood of the Four with Christopher Golden. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Shirley Jackson Awards.  His work has appeared in many Year's Best anthologies, as well as Century's Best Horror. 

The movie of The Silence, starring Stanley Tucci and Kiernan Shipka, debuted on Netflix in April, and Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, was released Hallowe'en 2015.  Several other projects are in development for TV and the big screen, including the original screenplays Playtime (with Stephen Volk) and My Hunted House.

Find out more about Tim at his website